Precarious workers in London: New forms of organisation and the city

Woodcock, Jamie (2014). Precarious workers in London: New forms of organisation and the city. City, 18(6) pp. 776–788.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/13604813.2014.962896

Abstract

This paper discusses precarious workers in London. The aim is to consider the particular challenges and possibilities for resistance in the context of London. It addresses the theoretical questions of precarity and its significance in post-Fordist capitalism. The innovations of the Operaismo—in terms of workers' inquiries, the concept of class composition and the strategy of refusal—provide the theoretical basis for the paper. The paper draws on two examples of recent struggles on university campuses, that of casual teaching staff and cleaners, which highlight different points. The first is that a method inspired by the tradition of the workers' inquiry can provide an important starting point for a campaign, combining knowledge production and a project of organisation. This is illustrated with the use of surveys as a starting point for a campaign at SOAS (School of Oriental and African Studies), University of London. The second example draws on the experience of the cleaners' campaigns at the University of London. The history of the dispute is considered along with the use of the London living wage and alternative forms of trade unionism. This paper argues that the particular pressures for precarious workers in London need to be considered, but could also be posed as potential demands from workers, drawing on Henri Lefebvre's notion of ‘the right to the city'. The conclusion of the argument is a call for further research that is attentive to the new forms of organisation that are emerging from workers' struggles and to how a consideration of urban demands could provide important opportunities for developing this further.

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